Writer: F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted by Laura Jayne Bateman
Director: Laura Jayne Bateman
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
In a move away from the usual Nottingham New Theatre studio space, the audience is taken over to another small studio location in the depths of the Nottingham University Trent building. It almost feels as if we are being conveyed, through the cold night air, to one of Jay Gatsby’s exuberant parties. The fellow – party-going – audience is mostly a lively student group of “bright young things” keen to visit The Great Gatsby himself.
This fine and voguish production of F Scott Fitzgerald’s luminous novel, The Great Gatsby is adapted by Laura Jayne Bateman, who also directs and choreographs. Bateman has lifted the spoken and descriptive text direct from the novel to bring the story to the stage for this seventy-minute one-act play. The classic advice in theatre writing where the dramatic form is preferred to the narrative form is “show – don’t tell”; however, in this production Bateman and her team of five actors bring alive The Great Gatsby story through an intelligently thought out blend of both forms with a third discipline of stylised movement including excellently executed jazz dance. The actors feel and look very natural as they dance together in syncopated rhythm visually heightened through strobe lighting. The theatrical use of moving silhouettes behind a rectangular screen adds a further dimension to the story telling. This is especially so when the actions of absent characters are referred to. Lighting director James Fox’s work really enhances the way the play looks in this small studio space. Gus Herbert adds a fluid technical balance as technical director.
The piece uses music by James Berry and Parov Stelar influenced by 1920s jazz – not only for the dance aspects but also as a musical undercurrent that enhances the mood and pace throughout some of the spoken text. Authentic period costuming by Vintage Years adds real glitz and glamour to this production. If it were less richly costumed the play wouldn’t have as much impact in the important story-line division of the rich and poor.
Ben Standish is matinée idol personified with his slicked black hair, poise and quiet confidence as the super rich Jay Gatsby. Many of his lines are punctuated with “Old Sport” and his character’s often over-riding words assume a superiority hidden behind a charming smile while hiding a publicly unknown past connected to his sudden riches.
Nick Gill as narrator and Gatsby neighbour, Nick Carraway, softly dominates the show bringing confidence and style to the character. Gill’s Carraway is less cut-throat and more deceptive as he moves around the emotional spectrum – one moment admiring and in awe of Gatsby, the next declaring an instant personal hate from the very beginning. He is oblique in his wry observations of the love triangles that happen around him which conflicts with a personal blindness in his own besotted lust for the untrustworthy Jordan Baker.
Libby Boyd is a sardonically and cynically-stronger socialite Daisy Buchanan here than the brittle character we are used to seeing portrayed on the cinema screen. Her character’s strength makes her more credible in her actions in leaving the arms of Gatsby, albeit reluctantly, to return to her bigoted and womanising husband Tom Buchanan, played as gloriously immoral, racist and horribly blunt by vocally strong Harry Bradley.
Completing the cast is Becca Jones as the ravishingly beautiful but ultimately dishonest Jordan Baker – a competitive golfer and illusive romantic social butterfly for the smitten Nick Carraway. Jones brings all of Baker’s flaws to the front while maintaining a high maintenance profile as one of the “new women” of the 1920s. Myrtle and George Wilson appear as referred to through the narrative or quickly personified by the actors.
To sum up, an excerpt from the programme notes concludes that, “The Great Gatsby is a timeless story, but feels particularly meaningful today among the continued rise of consumerism, capitalism and xenophobia. Once again the rich become richer and poor more impoverished.” This reviewer feels the very much the richer for having witnessed this terrific production full of intelligent and mature performances from the Nottingham New Theatre company.
Runs until 7 December 2015 | Image: Contributed